Beloved by so many and for such a long time, Beatrix Potter has left behind a legend that inspires wonderment in people all around the world. Her desire for a harmonious relationship between people and wilderness was easy to see in her gardens and in her many literary works. Creating your garden around what she might do is a great way to bring together a landscape that has nature and beauty, with some sophisticated Victorian flavor.
Here are some ways you can recreate Beatrix Potter’s garden with modern plants.
Beatrix Potter enjoyed the look of a slightly wild garden, but she also stuck to traditional English gardening themes. Her upbringing in affluent society exposed her to some of the most magnificent formal gardens of the time, but she seemed to enjoy moving away from formalities in her own garden. She did however have some elements of a formal garden in her own. Boxwood hedges, climbing roses and clematis over stone walls and facades, herbs for cooking and scent in the garden were all part of her gardens as they were in many Victorian gardens. A flair for collecting rare varieties shows up in her gardens from time to time as well- usually for her however, these plants were passed down or gifted and much loved over time.
You can recreate this magical look and feel in your own garden, even here in America. Generally, to get the same effect, aim to create beds with some amount of edging and formality, and fill your beds with beautiful natives and useful plants. Interplant your edible areas with your ornamental areas. Use plants that offer year round interest and are healthy and easy to grow, not high maintenance. Better yet, choose plants that not only benefit the aesthetics of your landscape and garden, but choose plants that the critters will benefit from too. We’ve put together a really nice list of plants that Beatrix Potter used, and probably would use, if she had lived on this side of the Atlantic pond.
Shrubs and Trees
Shrubs are extremely important in any landscape, and Beatrix had many in her estate gardens.
- Boxwood is a quintessential English garden necessity, and was present in Beatrix Potter’s gardens as an accent, hedgerow shrub, border shrub, and container plant. When you think of the green, perfectly sheared shapely shrub of the English formal garden, you’re probably thinking of boxwood. Winter Gem and Sprinter are two of the bestselling, best performing boxwood cultivars available in the US. ‘Winter Gem’ is a shorter maturing, dense shrub that was bred to keep its lush green color throughout the winter (where it won’t be blanketed in snow of course!). ‘Sprinter’ is a fast growing version of ‘Winter Gem’. Plant both every 2-4 feet in well-draining, high quality soil (amend if you need to). Plan to keep from drying out, and use a slow-release fertilizer each spring for best results. Try planting boxwood as a small border between a perennial bed and a walkway, as Beatrix Potter did in some of her garden areas.
- Lilacs were a favorite of the time and still are. Enjoy a longer season of bloom from your lilac when you plant Bloomerang. ‘Bloomerang’ is a smaller lilac that fits in well in the shrub border. In warmer zones, after the first spring bloom it’s good to prune it for a strong repeat bloom later in the season. Use lilacs behind other perennials, shrub roses, and as focal points along pathways where you walk, and enjoy the fragrance of the blooms as you enjoy your landscape.
- Mockorange is a very hardy, wonderful shrub that blooms heavily in the spring in white- which is sweetly and heavily scented. Mockoranges are tolerant of most lighting conditions, but thrive where they receive morning sun- better yet in full sun exposure. Mockoranges will do well in any soil type, even hard clay. We carry the variety Snowbelle, which is a more compact mockorange, which matures at just less than 4 feet in height and stays compact and round with minimum care. Beatrix Potter would use shrubs like mockorange in areas that needed an explosion of life in the spring, where other perennials and shrubs were still coming into their own for the season. Plant mockoranges in hedgerows or as backdrops to summer blooming perennials.
- Privet is a lot like boxwood, except it might be a little less demanding, grows faster, and grows a little larger. California privet is very hardy, non-invasive, and will grow into a hedgerow really fast. It’s also evergreen like boxwood, and takes to shearing just fine. You can also let privet grow in an area of the garden that’s wilder, which will provide berries for birds which they enjoy greatly and in some areas need to stay alive. Note that common privet is invasive. This is NOT common privet and is not invasive. Use privet as a screen around unsightly areas, or to create a screen of privacy. You can also use them to create a living fence- and neatly trimmed they are quite lovely on the border. Along with the berries that birds enjoy, birds also use privet as a place to sleep, nest in, and rest in during the winter months. Try planting privet along your foundation too.
- Witch Hazel is considered both a tree and shrub. Left to grow on its own, Witch Hazel will grow to tree proportions, but it can be trimmed and pruned to stay more shrub-like. Witch Hazel was a favorite of Beatrix Potter, and for those who have witch hazel in their own gardens, it quickly becomes a favorite for them as well. Witch hazel blooms in late fall and early winter when all other plants have gone dormant. The flowers are interesting looking to say the least, but they are beautiful- and fragrant. Witch hazel also prefers to grow where most other shrubs that sport showy blooms don’t like to grow- in the shade. This native shrub is also supremely hardy, able to grow throughout most of the US. Use Witch hazel in a shady corner of the wildlife garden or as a focal point on the north side of your landscape- even in the foundation area. Birds love the blooms in the fall.
Stay tuned for Beatrix Potter approved edibles and perennials! Read part 2 of our Beatrix Potter's Garden article.